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Wilson's power, speed fuels rise to 49ers' leading rusher

NBC Sports

Jeff Wilson Jr.’s career day in Week 16 against the Arizona Cardinals all but guaranteed he will be the 49ers’ fourth different leading rusher in the past four seasons.

Take one look at Wilson run the ball and what pops is his power. In the past two seasons, he has scored 10 touchdowns on just 133 rushing attempts. He has added another three touchdowns on 13 pass receptions.

But his game speed has impressed and, maybe even surprised 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan.

“Everyone can see how physically he runs, which allows him to cut well,” Shanahan told NBC Sports Bay Area on "49ers Game Plan." “If you go to 40 times, he’s probably our slowest back. That’s why people don’t talk about his speed that much. But, damn, it doesn’t look like that.

“He is hitting it at full speed and when he runs into a person, he is trying to go through that person.”

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Wilson’s 40-yard dash time (4.57 seconds) in 2018 was, in fact, the slowest on the team behind the draft workout times of Raheem Mostert (4.32), Tevin Coleman (4.39), Jerick McKinnon (4.41), Austin Walter (4.49) and JaMycal Hasty (4.55).

However, Wilson's speed measurably is impressive. He reached 20.86 mph on a Week 15 run play against the Dallas Cowboys — the third-fastest speed for any ball-carrier throughout the league that week, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.


“That means he is running fast,” Shanahan said. “When you can move like that, and there’s no hesitation, and you’re cutting and you can see there’s no fear and he lowers his shoulder with his same foot, people feel it.”

Wilson was the star of the 49ers’ upset victory over the Arizona Cardinals last week, rushing for a career-high 183 yards on 22 rushing attempts. He also caught one pass, resulting in a 21-yard touchdown.

Wilson overtook Mostert for the team’s rushing lead. He has 524 yards on the ground (4.9 average) and six touchdowns in 11 games with just two starts. Mostert will sit out the final game of the season Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks with a high-ankle sprain.

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Wilson will lead the 49ers in rushing this season, adding his name to the list that over the previous three seasons included Mostert (772 yards in 2019), Matt Breida (814 yards in 2018) and Carlos Hyde (938 yards in 2017).

Wilson’s contributions since his arrival with the 49ers as an undrafted rookie from North Texas should lead to a significant pay raise in 2021. He figures to be a top priority for the 49ers to re-sign as a restricted free agent.